How to do brand first impressions research for digital

The previous analog research exercise is important for a couple of reasons. First, it provides another chance to empathize with our user by reacquainting ourselves with their persona. Second, it forces us to think through and identify why they are going to a search page to get answers. Both of these make it easier for us to feed the content beast.

Next, we will take an inventory of where our brand equity currently sits. Customers today are forming their first impressions of your brand on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). It is not happening in a print ad. Or even on your website. It’s happening here on the SERPs and if you do not have a good handle on how your brand is coming across, the hill just got steeper for getting people to engage with you online.

Poor product reviews, negative comments, lack of credible 3rd party sources all send social proof of what your brand is all about.

Note: You should have your handy keyword spreadsheet nearby as you do this exercise.

Armed with these brainstorms, we can go to a couple free tools to get better insights into how we might go after keyword phrases. From Zero Moment of Truth:

Step 1: Autocomplete on a search engine
This deceptively simple tool can reveal some big insights for how your customers are seeing you on the SERPs. This is truly ground zero for brand first impressions and can be a humbling experience if you have not been paying attention to your online efforts. Remember, it is never too late to start moving the needle.

  • Type in your product or service name and see what search terms fill in automatically. These represent where the majority of searches are taking place since they are the most popular terms.
  • Does your site or brand appear in the top third of the first results page for these searches?
  • If present, does your brand show up in the ratings and reviews for your category?
  • If you brand is local, be sure to enter a geography qualifier into the query (Ex. “best hair salon in Pasadena”). This is particular powerful for seeing user reviews and ratings.

Step 2: Brand Image Search Exercise

  • Enter “Your Brand Name” – what do the results say? Don’t flinch.
  • Enter “Your Brand Name” Review – what does it say?
  • Best “Your Category” – who shows up?

Step 3: Look at Paid Search Ads

  • Do you see a lot of ads above the results and off to the side? This means the keyword is pretty valuable and likely to generate a click-thru. It will also likely be tough to rank on.
  • What type of content and calls to action are they using?

Any ideas pop up? Create a separate tab called “Opportunities” in your spreadsheet and list anything you see that sparks an opportunity.

Wait, what is an opportunity?

  • These might be blogs you see for Your Category search that you could approach for possibly guest-blogging or coverage of your brand.
  • Reviews or ratings on your brand that need to be addressed in the conversation.
  • Ideas for content creation around forums or questions. Yahoo! Answers, Quora, and even Wikipedia is great for this.
  • Major competitors not yet identified through traditional competitive audits.

Cross-check this with your first tab on your keyword phrases that you brainstormed off the user persona. What holds true? What needs to be added?

Next up, we will dive into pulling actual search data into our research efforts.